What you may not know is that I'm also a science-fiction editor and writer.
For a good while now, I've been teasing this series about a rag-tag team of college students with super powers. What you may not know is why I'm doing this at all.
I was eight years old.
I was on medical leave from school after my fourth concussion in less than seven months, and each concussion came from school bullying. I was a Chicago transplant surviving in New Jersey, the only mixed race kid in class, the only power ranger and anime fan and the only wrestling fan in the school who championed Bam Bam Bigelow and Tommy Dreamer. I was the smart kid who kept correcting the teacher, who was fresh out of college. In short, if I had been wearing glasses and braces, I would have been dead for about 21 years by now. The target on my back was only overshadowed by the size of my head, smothered in bouncy curls and angst.
As my mom was starting to file the mountain of paperwork to get me homeschooled in the next room over, I fell asleep starring at the ceiling, wondering what my purpose was in life.
They say when you have a brain injury (especially a concussion) it can have a weird effect on your dreams. That must be true, because WOW did I have one hell of a dream!
I saw this cast of multicultural characters, all lounging about on a big couch, watching a holographic TV set, waiting for something. Everyone looked like an anime character (this was two weeks after I started watching Sailor Moon) and with (at least) 7-9 different ethnicities, I thought maybe I was dreaming about an anime cast of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
But the longer I slept, the more I realized these were NOT the Power Rangers.
They were lusty!
Holy crap, these images would have made my parents scream if I drew ANY of what I saw back then. They were college students. They didn't transform but my God, they had superpowers. How could I have been dreaming of such people at such a young age?
And then I heard a woman's voice.
"KIIIIII-CHAAAAAN!! Ki-Chan come ON!! The demons are coming, we're gonna be too late!"
"Kitchen? Who's kitchen?" My eight year old mind wondered. I knew absolutely nothing about Japanese, so I couldn't understand half of what this woman was saying. (This was Violet BTW.)
And suddenly, there she was.
Schlubby, wearing a loose t-shirt, flared jeans and a yellow baseball cap (more on that next blog) and with a speech impediment thick enough to make Popeye cry, stood Ki-Chan. Her hands lit up, she smiled a cocky grin, and led this team of beer-swilling college students into Shinjuku to fight demons.
When I woke up from this crazy dream, I tried looking around my mom's comic and book collection to see if there was an equal character that might have inspired me. But nothing I saw in real life matched what was in my head. For the next four years, every time I slept, there they were. And I wanted to capture every moment.
But I didn't actually put pen to paper until I was thirteen years old. The images I saw were so expansive that it was hard for me to grasp how to formulate the stories.
One night, after my thirteenth birthday, I had one last dream. At least for a while.
I was running on a field of wet grass in the middle of the night, trying to outrun the demons. As I was about to fall off a cliff, a hot bolt went past me, and I was grabbed by Ki-Chan. She flew me back to the park as the others fought off the demons, distracting them. She patted me on the head, smiled and said "You'll see m' again soon. Kay?" And flew off into the moonlight.
I woke up early, and went with my mom to the local K-Mart for school supplies. They had a backlog of back-to-school stuff left over, so we went to grab a sale.
I had no idea this was the game changer.
My mother bought me a green, plastic-faux-leather notebook. She insisted I was going to write her a story like no other. She didn't care what it was about, as long as it had a beginning, middle and an end.
Initially, Ki-Chan would have been a school project, but I traded her in for a paper about Alexander Dumas. I wasn't ready for the world to know about my little yellow-capped secret just yet.
Off an on, past my teenaged years and through my twenties, I would return to Ki-Chan's world, tweak and write a little, draw some, but I wasn't sure if or when I could train her to the point where I didn't feel like dying if someone saw a random sketch around the house. The story got too big for the notebook, so I started typing on Microsoft Word and Libre Office, which gave me the space to do some proper editing.
I was so scared to share her with anyone, I would hide my sketches all over the house. Rarely, I let my mom and brother see a glimpse, but would hush away the stash of stories and artwork out of anxiety.
I wasn't confident in my work, so I turned my focus onto wrestling and other sketches, so I could train myself to draw exactly the images I saw in my head.
But often, I would stash everything away, nervous about showing anybody anything. I went for long months not drawing anything at all, because I wasn't happy with my own work.
Fast forward to April 6th, 2016.
I lost my day job at a call center.
For legal reasons I will not say who or why, but I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Aside from cartooning and being a Jill of all Trades (master of few) I had spent my whole twenties in and out of customer service. I would go home angry and have sputtering nightmares about being screamed at by people older than my parents.
The irony? I've always been told I excel at customer service. Who knew the entire act of saying "please and thank you" was a rarity?
But even though I'm a stellar please-and-thank-you-apologizer for the inconvenience, I was just about one "How may I help you?" away from the loony bin.
My migraines were out of control and I looked like a ghost. My health was awful, and if you saw my Facebook photos, you knew it. I was bloated in some areas, fragile in others. I really wasn't me anymore.
I took some time to reflect on my life to figure out what direction I was heading in. If I can't go back to regular work without having night terrors, what could I do?
I started re-re-reading The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, looking for a sign. Between reading the book and watching the film on Netflix, I did what I had been doing in secret since I was eight years old.
I drew Ki-Chan.
I wasn't even thinking about what I was drawing. I was just doodling for the sake of doodling. But somehow, every doodle had Ki-Chan, Ti-Chan, Cecil, Techno, Lily, Kameko, or one other character just starring back at me, like I was forgetting to do something important.
At this point, only my mom and brother had seen her. I was too nervous to show her off to even my husband, with whom I share everything.
Like a teenager about to ask her crush out, I was afraid of rejection. The fear that John would not like Ki-Chan sunk me for a while. I've asked him time and again to be as blunt as possible with me with my works and not to "hit the like button" just because I drew it. But even though I said that, meant it and wanted his honest opinions, I was still afraid to hear any of it.
So while he went to work, I would tweak at the writing, mold the characters. And after 21 years (I feel old) since that first dream, I finally finalized the story and look of the Starwalkers to explain the existence of Ki-Chan's rag-tag group. (That's another blog, I'm just dropping a name here.)
But I was looking for a sign. Something that says "This is go time" that would propel me to publish a new book. I had been hinting at this story for a while on my Facebook page, but I wasn't satisfied. I was waiting for the light to turn green.
And it came stronger than I had anticipated.
The lyrics are a wake-up call to the soul. "So what you waiting for, tell me what you're waiting for?" Calls David Draiman like a father, asking his child to awaken. The more I played this song, the more I could see her in my mind.
She's surrounded by trees, trying to keep up with Hadagi's movements, still figuring out how to fire a beam. Her powers are stunted and she's afraid, but there's a giant ball of fire coming for her head, so she needs to swallow that fear right now and make a shot.
I played this song every day while writing. Any time I felt tired or sick, I hit the YouTube app on my Roku box and blast this until I have awakened.
The second sign came when I was helping John clean up some photos he thought he had lost. Among them was a picture of John about college-age, surrounded by trees.
John says to me: "You can't really tell, but I had SUCH a ponytail back then."
But that wasn't my first thought.
"Ti-Chan.... what are you doing here??" Is what I was actually thinking.
Sure the hair was darker (originally, I toyed with giving Ti-Chan brown hair instead of black) but the way the cheeks were set, the eyes, I was staring at a real-life clone of my creation.
The third sign was not far off from the second.
John and I were cuddling on the couch. I was getting tired and wanted something soft to watch. YouTube had clips from Animal Planet's "Dogs 101" so I put them on auto-play. I wasn't really paying attention, I just needed something relaxing in the background we could both enjoy.
One of the clips was of a Japanese breed. John shook his head and noted the small size of the dog.
John: Huh. My dad and I used to have that dog when I was little.
Me: Oh? He's adorable!
John: Yeah, but thinking back I wished I had treated her better.
John: Well don't get me wrong, I never abused any of my dogs, I just liked playing with my other dogs more. She was more my dad's dog.
Me: Aww that happens sometimes.
John: Dad had an odd name for her too. One he heard from the Japanese when he was in the war.
Me: Oh really? What was it?
Me:...................... I'm sorry, I beg your pardon, what?
John: *Sigh* Well it's NOT "Bathsheba" like the Bible character, so many people get it wrong. Her name was Basheeba.
John: Yeah. Ba-shee-ba.
Me: Right. It's go time.
Me: I need you to see something.
While I haven't shown much yet, Basheeba is the original Zodiac Soldier who Ki-Chan was crafted after.
Ki-Chan isn't a full re-incarnation, more like they're two souls sharing one body.
It's like Hotaru and Sailor Saturn's relationship in Sailor Moon Crystal, or Yugi in Yu-Ghi-Oh.
Two different people, sharing one body. One is ancient and one is modern.
Swallowing my soul, I showed John the first book, just as I was finishing it up.
Turns out, I needed him much sooner than I thought, as some of the dialogue I had written down for Techno, Silas and Ti-Chan was too flowery. So he helped me add some masculinity to the three so they will sound more like natural people instead of the coloring book writing they had before.
By May, I started to feel butterflies. It was a good nervous, like the jittery feeling you get before you go on stage for the school play. You fear rejection from a sea of critics, but you also feel the serenity that comes with knowing you don't have to hide your soul anymore.
Unlike anything I've ever done before, Ki-Chan represents my life's work like no other. She was born in my dreams, and after years of growing up with her, I feel like I'm finally ready to share my dreamworld with the real world.
Tie your shoes, Ki-Chan. It's go time.